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How Lamar Jackson changed the culture of a defense-first Ravens organization

How Lamar Jackson changed the culture of a defense-first Ravens organization

Lamar Jackson has never fit the prototypical mold for the NFL. And on the surface, he’s never fit the mold of a typical Ravens player. 

When Jackson was drafted by the Ravens in 2018, he joined an organization that for long had needed an offensive spark for the entirety of the franchise. 

Since the Ravens moved to Baltimore in 1996, and before Jackson arrived, they ranked in the top 10 of the NFL in points six times. They also ranked in the top 10 in yards just three times — the first two years of the franchise’s existence — and once again in 2018 when Jackson started seven games. 

Baltimore’s two best offensive players since the creation of the franchise are offensive linemen and, for the most part, the organization has been carried by its defensive prowess. 

In fairness to previous offensive teams, and former quarterback Joe Flacco, it’s difficult to rise above the statuses of Ray Lewis, Ed Reed and Terrell Suggs. Still, the Ravens were never known as an offensive team. Then, Jackson arrived. 

The story of Jackson’s MVP season has been told repeatedly, but his first full season as a starter was one of the most remarkable seasons by a quarterback in league history. He rushed for 1,206 yards, the most ever for a quarterback, and threw for 3,127 yards and a league-best 36 touchdowns. The Ravens went 14-2 as Jackson became the second-ever unanimous league MVP.

Jackson’s presence changed the way the game was played, discussed and strategized as the Ravens broke the mold for the way the game was trending for decades. 

Advanced statistics and a better understanding of how first downs, and points, are gained have shifted the game more and more away from run-centered offenses. Jackson and the Ravens rushed the ball more efficiently than some teams threw the ball in 2019, en route to the most rushing yards by an NFL team in league history. 

Not only is Jackson a better thrower than he was at the outset of his career, and from the outset of the 2019 season, he also played in space better than nearly anyone in the NFL. He averaged 4.9 yards before contact last season — 1.4 yards above second-place Raheem Mostert. He created plays not out of some desperate attempt to make something out of nothing, but rather got himself in the open and made defenses look silly. 

The biggest lesson from Jackson and the Ravens’ 2019 season, however, isn’t that each team should be in a frantic search for the next Lamar Jackson. Rather, it’s about drafting and acquiring the best potential players possible and giving them the freedom to make plays happen on their own.

In that regard, Jackson is a stark contrast from the pocket-passing styles of Flacco, Kyle Boller and the previous 22 quarterbacks who’ve thrown a regular-season pass for the Ravens. 

The way Jackson changed the game, though, at least for 2019, isn’t dissimilar to the way Lewis and Reed and so many defensive greats for the Ravens patrolled the field. They changed the way offenses had to play the game and created mismatches in the front seven or secondary that other teams couldn’t account for. 

With Lewis and Reed enshrined in Canton, and Suggs potentially on the way in a few years, Jackson has a long way to go before he’s mentioned in the same breath as those three. Through the first two years of his career, though, he’s off to a good start.

By all signs, Jackson will continue to change the way the game — and the Ravens — are viewed across the NFL and sports as a whole. 

How he’s changing the game, though, is only different in style.

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How the Baltimore Ravens chose city history for their team name

How the Baltimore Ravens chose city history for their team name

Before they got their name in 1996, the Baltimore Ravens, wanted the city’s NFL franchise to be known, once again, as the Colts. 

When the Cleveland Browns left for Baltimore after the 1995 NFL season, there were more pressing matters on the mind of the organization before a name was constructed. Plus, with more than a dozen lawsuits from Cleveland trying to prevent the move in the first place, the public option to discuss the name wasn’t available just yet. 

So, as the franchise’s brass internally sat down to come up with options, the name “Colts” was brought up. Baltimore owner Art Modell reached out to Jim Irsay in Indianapolis about acquiring the name. Modell thought he could get the rights for a couple million dollars, so he offered $5 million. 

Irsay came back with an offer around $25 million.

“We probably had, in the original mix, 12 to 15 names as possibilities,” longtime Ravens executive vice president of public and community relations, Kevin Byrne, recalled. “We looked at variations of horse themes to go along with the Colts...(After Irsay’s offer) Art said, ‘I think we’re going to have a different name.’” 

The Colts had been the name of the city’s team from 1953 to 1984. The team had won three NFL Championships and one Super Bowl and had one of the league’s most famous quarterbacks in Johnny Unitas. 

But in the early morning hours of March 29, 1984, the Colts famously left town on Mayflower trucks for Indianapolis. The franchise, owned by Robert Irsay, kept the name.

When football returned to Baltimore, retaining — or, in this case, buying — the Colts name back wasn’t an option. Neither was keeping the name "Browns."

“(Owner) Art (Modell) had said from the very beginning, ‘I’d love to have you go with us, but we can’t be the Baltimore Browns,’” Byrne recalled. “‘I can’t do that to the people in Cleveland. They need to keep Jim Brown and Brian Sipe and Ozzie Newsome. We have no right to take that.’ (So) I knew we were going to have a new name.”

Paired with Modell’s lack of desire to keep the name, as well as commissioner Paul Tagliabue’s commitment to bring football back to Cleveland with the original “Browns” name, Baltimore searched for a new name for its new team.

Bryne, who was with the Browns organization starting in 1981, followed the team from Cleveland to Baltimore. He announced his retirement from the organization in April. 

While the team searched for a name, he said the organization wanted a unique name that worked with the city’s history. One option was to name the team the “Americans,” a name based on the railroad history of Baltimore.

“David was really enamored with that,” Byrne recalled. “He used to chuckle, ‘We will be America’s Team, we’ll be called the Americans. We’ll have American flag on the helmet.’”

Another option was the “Marauders,” a nod to the city’s football past with the Colts, as well as the country’s past.

Then, the Ravens name was introduced. 

RELATED: HOW THE NATIONALS CHOSE THEIR NAME

It was based on a poem titled “The Raven” by Edgar Allen Poe, who died in Baltimore in 1849 after spending the latter half of his life in the city. While the name is commonplace now, the debate raged on at the time.

“Internally, we couldn’t agree at all,” Byrne said. “One day we were discussing it and I said, ‘Why don’t we let the fans decide?’ So we went to The Baltimore Sun and asked them if they would like to be involved in a fan-vote. While we had lots of names, the three finalists we offered to the fans to vote on were Americans, Marauders and Ravens. And overwhelmingly, the fans selected Ravens.”

According to the Ravens’ website, The Sun announced a record-breaking 33,748 callers for the poll. The Ravens overwhelmingly won the poll with 22,463 votes. The Americans trailed 5,635, and Marauders 5,650.

“When we first practiced, we were the Mean Machine from ‘The Longest Yard,’” Byrne joked. “We didn’t have a logo on our helmets, we had white helmets with black jerseys. We had to kind of hurry the process.”

Once the name was chosen, colors had to be picked for the team. The pictures and descriptions the organization found of ravens showed the bird’s black figure with the look of almost purple wings. 

“In talking with the league, they told us, ‘You just can’t be black and purple, you need some white colors in there,’” Byrne said. “So we looked at the state flag which had some gold in it, had some yellow, had a little red in it, then we got those colors in to brighten up.”

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And with the name and colors decided, the Ravens were officially the NFL’s newest franchise. 

The only thing left to work out was the blending of Baltimore’s past into the future of the Ravens. Byrne credited Art Modell for making that happen. 

Former Baltimore Colt players were interested in who Art was, and many of them likened him to Robert Irsay in Indianapolis. Byrne assured them that wasn’t the case.

After Modell met with the former players and earned their trust, he set his sights on getting Unitas onboard. And with a promise to look after the NFL’s alumni from Modell, Unitas agreed to be on board with the Ravens’ organization. 

Later that year on Sept. 1 against the Oakland Raiders, the Ravens officially entered the NFL, with Baltimore Colt legends welcoming them on the field.

“John came, we had opening day with the jackets, we all lined up and Johnny presented the game ball to the referee,” Byrne said. “It was like the imprimatur from the Pope so to speak, that the Baltimore Colts were telling all the fans, ‘It’s OK to root for these guys. These guys are us.’”

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If Steelers fans are allowed into Heinz Field this season, they'll have to wear a mask

If Steelers fans are allowed into Heinz Field this season, they'll have to wear a mask

If fans are permitted to attend Pittsburgh Steelers home games this fall, there's one item they can't forget: a mask.

Steelers' director of communication, Burt Lauten, explained the decision to require fans to wear a mask in a statement on Tuesday.

"Our goal is to still have fans at Heinz Field this year with the understanding that social distancing, as well as all fans being required to wear masks, will play a role in the capacity to ensure a safe atmosphere," Lauten said, via ESPN. "We will continue to work with the NFL and public health officials to finalize plans for fans to attend our home games."

Pittsburgh was one of the first franchises to alter its ticketing plans this season, as they decided in May to trim half of their individual game ticket sales due to the coronavirus pandemic. 

The news comes just hours after their AFC North rival, the Baltimore Ravens, announced that M&T Bank Stadium will be capped at less than 14,000 fans this fall, should fans be allowed to attend games.

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In June, The Athletic reported that the NFL will not place a limit on capacity at games, allowing each individual team to make the decision themselves.

"Attendance will be a state-by-state, county-by-county thing," an anonymous NFL source told The Athletic. "It will not be a one size fits all."

Additionally, the NFL has said that the first 6-8 rows of lower bowl sections, including field-level suites, will be blocked off this fall to help slow the spread of the virus. Those sections will be covered with tarps, which teams can use to sell advertising, similarly to what the Premier League in England has done.

With training camp still a few weeks away, there are a lot of virus-related questions the NFL must answer beforehand.

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